Friday, July 18, 2014

My kind of town, Chicago is

While I am, first and foremost, a Worcester girl, I am also, quite proudly, “half Chicago,” the town my mother hails from. (Actually the town she originally hailed from was in the complete and utter back arse of Mitteleuropa, but she arrived here when she was three or four years old, and grew up in Chicago.)

Anyway, thanks to my cousin Ellen (and her good-natured and gabfest-tolerant husband Mike), I just spent an absolutely wonderful few days in Chicago.

This is one beautiful city and, while Boston is home and, quite naturally, one of my favorite places on earth, I have to put Chicago right up there with New York City and Paris in my personal urban pantheon.

I’m not wild about the flatness, and I wouldn’t want to live 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. And there is the matter of the Chicago accent. (But, as they might say in the Midwest, honest to Pete, most folks don’t speak “da Bulls/da Bears”, and I wouldn’t want to be full time around a Southie or Brooklyn accent, either.)

Other than that, as long as you’re not one of the poor unfortunates who live in one of the violence-soaked gangbanger neighborhoods where an eight year old on a bike or a toddler at the window isn’t safe from a stray bullet, what’s not to like?

Chicago is beautiful, with a waterfront that any city that fronts on water would envy.

And Chicago’s got culture.

Not that I visited any of them on this visit – been there, done that – there are wonderful museums.

Chicago has excellent restaurants, great shopping, and plenty of stuff to see and do.

Chicagoans like and like to talk sports and politics.

Okay, it’s not the pleasant weather capital of the world. But I grew up in Worcester, and chose to live in Boston, so weather is obviously not a deal-breaker, city-wise.

So far, Chicago sounds like to lot of big cities, no? Plus or minus on some of the attributes, but you could slug in San Francisco or Philadelphia, and nothing much changes.

But what Chicago has that, in my book, surpasses any major city in the U.S., is incredibly interesting, beautifully kept up, and – thanks to that flatness – blissfully and comfortably walkable neighborhoods.

And we walked around plenty of them.

Ellen and I tromped through the neighborhood where our grandmother lived, a wonderful area full of charming bungalows and prairie-style houses. Sadly, our grandmother’s house has gotten a little run down over the years, which would have Grandma spinning in her grave. Every other house in her neighborhood was getting plenty of TLC, but Grandma’s front yard was overgrown, the paint on the front door was peeling, the front screen door was shabby. In general, things looked pretty forlorn.

In my grandmother’s day, that front lawn was a velvet carpet, and no one who washed all her windows and curtains once a month was going to have a door with peeling front paint, that’s for sure.

So that was a bit sad.

On the upside, we got to see Blago’s house, which was right around the corner from my grandmother’s.

For those who aren’t that up on their Illinois politics, former governor Rod Blagojevich is doing time for trying to sell Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder.

Anyway, his house – or former house, I gather – is a thing of beauty.

Which is more than you can say for Our Lady of Mercy Church, where both my mother and my Aunt Mary (Ellen’s mother) were married. I have to say that, whatever it looked like in the 1940’s when Liz and Mary were married, it is now a hideous combination of ugly old and sterile new.

It was, nonetheless, fun to drop in and check it out.

We also “did” Andersonville, Lakewood/Balmoral, Lincoln Park...

One house more attractive and charming than the next, all along lovely tree-lined streets.

Better than roaming around some of Chicago’s hoods was hanging with my cousin Ellen (talking everything under the sun, exchanging book lists, and criticizing the homebuyers on HGTV), and getting to visit with family: my Aunt Mary (still going strong at 89!), Ellen’s kids and grandkids, Ellen’s Chicago sibs and their spouses.

I also got to see some of Naperville, where Ellen and her husband raised there kids, and where they’re now retired.

I am generally suburb-averse, but Napervills is one of those fortunate suburbs that was actually a place on its own before it was a bedroom community. It has lovely neighborhoods, a nifty downtown that my cousin can walk to – and that nifty downtown has one of the best indie bookstores in the country, by the way – and a very pleasant River Walk along the Du Page River.

Ellen and Mike are going to be spending the month of September in Paris, and she’ll be blogging about her adventure (and about preparing for it) on Hello, Lamppost.

Those of a certain age will recognize these words as coming from Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy).

I suspect that once I departed Chez Brosnahan, Mike was adopting a quite different Simon and Garfunkel tune as his own anthem: Sounds of Silence.

Thanks, Ellen. Thanks, Mike.

My kind of town, Chicago is.

I’ve always kin of known this, but it was fun to be reminded of it.

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